Paramedics Fleeing County for Better Pay

County Could Lose ALS License

WINNSBORO (Nov. 3, 2016) – Members of the Administrative and Finance Committee were advised during their Oct. 24 meeting of a critical need to take immediate steps to stem the flow of paramedics leaving the County for employment in surrounding counties or risk its Emergency Medical System (EMS) losing its Advanced Life Saving (ALS) license.

Should that come to pass, Director of Fairfield County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Mike Tanner said, the County’s paramedics would be reduced to giving nothing more than basic care, which would exclude even administering medication.

“Paramedics are the primary emergency health care providers in this county,” Tanner said. “(They) are the ones who save your life . . . but last month alone, we lost 30 percent of our paramedic staff.”

He said the problem has reached a critical stage with 11 full time and 15 part time paramedic positions currently open in the County.

“(Our ambulances) were fully staffed only one day in September. There were three days when half of our ambulances were shut down due to staffing problems. We have the best equipment in the state, the best substations. And that used to be enough to recruit and retain paramedics,” Tanner said. “But we are now so far behind on the pay scale that I can’t attract or retain them anymore.”

Directing the Committee’s attention to a chart showing 15 or so area towns and counties where annual starting salaries for paramedics range from $31,000 to $56,000, Tanner pointed out that Fairfield County’s paramedic salaries are at the bottom of the list.

“We lose them to Richland County, Lancaster County, V.C. Summer, Newberry, Piedmont, private services and plasma centers,” Tanner said. “We recently lost three paramedics to V.C. Summer. One had 30 years’ experience, one had 17 years and one had 15 years. V.C. Summer started them at $55,000. That’s $20,000 more than they were making here.”

Tanner said there is a statewide shortage of paramedics, prompting employers throughout the state to offer better pay and more incentives. He said Piedmont offers signing bonuses.

Not only is the pay better elsewhere, but the hours and shifts are shorter.

“Fairfield County paramedics work 720 more hours a year and earn 30 percent less than paramedics in Lexington, Richland, V.C. Summer and other places,” Tanner said. “And in Fairfield County, they work 24-hour shifts. The others work 12-hour shifts.”

Recent DHEC regulations have brought new pressure on the County to retain its paramedics, Tanner said.

“Beginning July 1, DHEC now requires a paramedic be on the ambulance 95 percent of the time for an EMS service to maintain its ALS license. Without that (license), we are back to basics – no drugs, no intubations, no defibrillation, no true life-saving stuff. So it’s imperative I have paramedics on the truck,” Tanner said.

Tanner said the County spends a lot of time training paramedics just to lose them, sometimes in a few months, to better paying jobs.

“I have two paramedics right now who have offers from plasma centers for $49,000,” Tanner said. “I’ve asked them to hold off resigning until I can get more funding.”

To make the County’s salaries more competitive, Tanner asked the Committee to recommend increasing the EMS budget by $187,778.40 to allow for new salary ranges: base pay, $45,000 – $48,000; sergeants, $49,500 – $52,500 and captains, $58,500 – $61,500. In addition, they would receive $300 per year credit for certification up to a 10-year limit.

Without further discussion, Committee members – Chairwoman Carolyn Robinson (District 2), Marion Robinson (District 5) and Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6) – voted to move the request to Council and asked Tanner to make the presentation at the next Council meeting on Nov. 7.